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Burkina Faso: Military shooting of protesters must be investigated

Burkina Faso’s transitional authorities must investigate the use of excessive and lethal force by the military, including the presidential guard, against largely peaceful anti-government protesters, which left at least 10 dead and hundreds injured last autumn, Amnesty International said in a detailed report published today.   

The report, “Just what were they thinking when they shot at people? Crackdown on anti-government protests in Burkina Faso”, is based on an in-depth investigation into the excessive and often lethal use of force by the presidential guard known as Régiment de Sécurité Présidentielle or RSP, gendarmes  and the military during the protests that erupted in Ouagadougou and other cities from 30 October to 2 November 2014. 

Evidence suggests that little or no warning was given by the military before they opened fire on protestors, some of whom had their hands up and many of whom were shot in the back as they attempted to flee. Under Burkina Faso law the military was not even authorized to be deployed in such circumstances.

“Opening fire without warning on peaceful protesters who clearly posed no threat to anyone is an outrageous and unacceptable use of excessive force which resulted in multiple deaths and hundreds of bloody injuries,” said Gaëtan Mootoo, Amnesty International’s researcher for West Africa.

“This last gasp attempt to crush legitimate protest and prop-up the administration of former President Blaise Compaoré resulted in the most violent repression by the military seen in Burkina Faso for decades. At least 10 people were killed during these protests and hundreds injured. The individual soldiers and their commanding officers suspected of involvement in these unlawful deaths and injuries must be brought to trial.” 

In addition to the use of live ammunition, protestors and bystanders, including children were indiscriminately beaten with batons and lashed with ropes. At least one journalist was also beaten by soldiers. During the latest research mission, an Amnesty International delegation visited one of the main hospitals in Ouagadougou and has evidence of a medical list confirming the deaths and indicating the nature of the injuries. It shows some of the injured had gun shots wounds in the thorax and the arms.

The report finds credible evidence that on 30 October and 2 November soldiers, mainly members of the RSP, used excessive force to stop protesters on the roads leading to the State House and the residence of the President’s brother. 

People were marching peacefully, many with their hands up to show that they were not carrying weapons, when they were fired on by the military, the gendarmerie and the RSP. 

It is clear from evidence gathered by Amnesty International that they were not acting in self-defence. No warnings were given and no attempts were made to negotiate with the protestors or disperse the crowds by other means. Indeed, one witness told Amnesty International, “If security forces had fired warning shots we would have left.” 

Another witness described how 46 year-old Tibo Kabré, was gunned down beside him as they approached soldiers on the road to Kosyam Palace. “We raised our hands to show that we were not armed and we started singing the national anthem, some shouted ‘Blaise out!’ Suddenly, the soldiers began shooting at us, there was a stampede, and we were running in all directions, people fell down in front of me. Tibo Kabré was one of the seriously injured and was taken to the Yalgado hospital, he died shortly after.”

In addition, evidence obtained by Amnesty International indicates that three prisoners were shot dead by prison guards on October 30 in Ouagadougou central prison and a further two died from suffocation and dehydration following a lock-down  for three days in their cells. 

While the transitional government set up an ad hoc committee to assess the human rights violations committed following the "popular uprising" it was not responsible for conducting investigations. Amnesty International is calling for a full and impartial commission of inquiry to be set up to investigate the facts and violations perpetrated. 

“As part of the process of turning over a new leaf in Burkina Faso’s history, the transitional authorities must ensure these serious human rights violations are independently and impartially investigated.  All those suspected of killing and injuring protesters must be held to account,” said Gaëtan Mootoo. 

“Urgent action must be taken to guarantee all victims and their families receive truth, justice and reparation.”  

 

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Background

The report is based on findings from a research mission to the country by Amnesty International. The protests were triggered by Blaise Compaoré’s attempt in October 2014 to amend Article 37 of the Constitution to allow him to run for re-election this year. This was the third time in his presidency that Blaise Compaoré had tried to modify presidential tenure.

The findings of the Amnesty International research mission in November and December 2014 show that 33 people died during these protests from 30 October to 2 November 2014, 10 of whom were shot dead by military and the Presidential Guard, Régiment de Sécurité Présidentielle (RSP). These figures were confirmed by an independent report published in December 2014 by a coalition of Burkinabé human rights organisations.

Under Burkinabé law, the national army, the RSP and the gendarmerie are not authorised to intervene in the realm of law enforcement, except under very specific conditions. Amnesty International found evidence that these conditions were not met during the recent unrest.” However, the delegation was unable to get a clear answer of whether the military were requisitioned or not, authorities say there is no record of a requisition order.

The UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Burkina Faso is party, obligates the state to protect the right to life, as set out in Article 6.1 of the treaty. It also sets out the “right to peaceful assembly”.